Missed Opportunities

Evelyn Grace Johnson (later Harris) at age 2

I’ve only known about this family of cousins since October 2017.  The first time I became aware of this one is because her name appeared on the back of her parents’ gravestone in Pine Bluff Arkansas.  I was at the cemetery to visit the grave of my grandfather, Jay Church Moore.  Nearby was the grave of my mom’s half-sister Javene.  I only missed her by about 2 months because she lived to a very ripe old age.

I googled and found that Evelyn lived in Pine Bluff but could not locate a phone number and so we went on to Memphis that day.  Then in May 2018, we returned to the Arkansas area to visit Evelyn’s sister, Sherry, who gave me so much insight into the family, shared so many pictures and stories that I felt as though I had lived in this, my family, for all my life.

I didn’t see Evelyn during that journey either.  I talked to her on the phone.  She said she wasn’t well but maybe when she was better we could meet.  That day, sadly, didn’t come because she passed away last Friday without us ever accomplishing that someday meeting.

I feel I missed opportunities three times now – once with Javene and then twice with Evelyn.  However, I am blessed that I even know they existed.  For over 60 years, my two parents status as adoptees meant we didn’t know our original family roots.  Now I do.  And so today, I mourn a missed opportunity – while counting my blessings – at the same time.

 

Understanding

I believe one of the most surprising aspects, of finally knowing my family’s origins (both of my parents were adopted), is fully realizing the suffering and/or sacrifices my grandparents experienced that enable my own existence.  That may seem like a self-evident conclusion but it actually was not.

Not only did I finally feel whole but I was compelled to understand the realities of adoption for ALL sides of the equation.  While I may never personally know how it feels to be adopted, I have 4 adoptees to inform my perspectives for not only were my parents adopted but each of my sisters surrendered a child to adoption.

So I have two birth mothers who are very close to me as siblings and a niece and nephew who have reunited with our family, so I’ve seen that aspect as well.  I also had two pairs of adoptive parents (the grandparents I knew as such my entire childhood into early adulthood) to inform me.

Due to an adoptee group I have joined at Facebook, due to TONS of reading from all sides of the adoption triad, I am much more fully informed than I was my entire life and that has been the side effect of learning my origins.

Origin information is very important to any person who has been impacted by adoption and that is something that those not impacted seem to struggle to fully understand.  If you’ve always known where you came from, even if you were not all that interested, you can be forgiven for not knowing how truly important that is.

Fulfilling My Destiny

Even if the person who suffered the original trauma has died,

even if his or her story lies submerged in years of silence,

fragments of life experience, memory and body sensation can live on,

reaching out from the past to resolution in

the minds and bodies of those living in the present.

~ It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn

My grandmothers . . . both lost their own mothers at a young age.  Both lost their firstborn children.

When I was growing up with both of my parents known to me as having been adopted, I didn’t know they had another family except for their adoptive parents.  I thought they were orphans.  I don’t know when they knew they weren’t orphans but they never knew their original families either.

For my mom, it probably started when the baby stealing and selling scandal of Georgia Tann, who was at the head of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis, broke while my mom was a teenager.  Her adoptive mother did her best to reassure my mom that she wasn’t one of those children who had been stolen.

Yet, she could not reconcile how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted from Memphis only a few months later.

My dad seems not to have wanted to know the truth of his origins.  I believe he was afraid to find out.  He would dissuade my mother’s yearning with “it might open up a can of worms”.  Even so, she tried to find out.  The state of Tennessee rejected all of her efforts in the early 1990s.

Finally, in 2017, I was able to receive her full adoption file, including her own letters and rejections from the 1990s.  Her mother never intended to lose her and suffered the remainder of her life from having been exploited the way she was.

Motivated by success, I started trying to discover my dad’s origins.  His mother was unwed, so I thought it unlikely I would ever know who his father was.  But in less than a year, I discovered that as well – thanks to a newly discovered cousin on his mother’s side.

Now I know why I was born.  Living in me were my grandmother’s desires to have the true stories known.  What a fulfilling outcome to my life (not that I am ready to die yet).